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East Timor Issues Arrest Warrant for Wiranto - 2004-05-10

An internationally-backed court in East Timor has issued an arrest warrant for a leading contender in Indonesia's upcoming presidential elections. The warrant charges the former head of the Indonesian armed forces with crimes against humanity for acts committed in 1999, when East Timor was voting for independence from Indonesia.

An international judge sitting on East Timor's special Panel for Serious Crimes issued a warrant for the arrest of General Wiranto.

The warrant follows charges by prosecutors against General Wiranto several months ago, that he had command responsibility for murders, deportations, and persecution carried out by the Indonesian security forces in the period surrounding East Timor's vote for independence four-years ago.

General Wiranto has since retired from the military and is the nominee of the Golkar Party, one of Indonesia's largest, in the presidential elections due in July. He has denied the charges and says his troops were only doing their best to keep order.

As many as 1,000 people died in East Timor when militias, supported and supplied by the Indonesian security forces, tried to intimidate people into voting to remain part of Indonesia. When that attempt failed, the militias carried out massive devastation.

General Wiranto was already under indictment by the East Timor prosecutors last month when the Golkar Party gave him its nomination for president. Many Indonesians still resent the loss of East Timor and believe the general was doing his patriotic duty in trying to prevent it from splitting away.

Under heavy international pressure, Indonesia set up its own investigation and trials of some individuals involved in the East Timor transition. General Wiranto was not among those charged by the Indonesian courts, leading critics to call the process a sham.

The special court in East Timor has prosecutors supplied by the United Nations, but the arrest warrant is valid only in East Timor, and it may never get further than that.

The East Timor government has been eager to avoid angering its giant neighbor.

President Xanana Gusmao has written letters to the Indonesian courts, arguing for leniency for the few individuals convicted for crimes committed in his country.

Analysts say the government in Dili is likely to try to block the special court's warrant from being passed to Interpol, which would reissue it as an international warrant.